Monday, June 19, 2017

Good story about the old days

Also in this week's C&EN, a good story: 
I enjoyed your feature on the first-year experience for newly minted assistant professors. In this era of the $2 million start-up package, my own experience in 1963 with Yale University offers an interesting contrast. The matter of start-up assistance was never discussed. It was tacitly assumed that the needed funds would come from NIH or NSF, and indeed my NIH grant was activated on my first day of appointment. Yale did end up contributing; they had asked me to include $8,000 for lab renovations in my NIH proposal. By the time the grant was funded, the renovations had been completed at Yale’s expense. Alas, Yale learned too late that work completed before the grant had been approved could not be reimbursed. So the $8,000 became my start-up package. 
Christopher K. Mathews
Corvallis, Ore.
For those wondering, $8,000 in 1963 works out to $63,774.07 in 2017 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI calculator. 

6 comments:

  1. It's probably worth noting that a lot of new assistant professors (myself included) received nowhere near $2 million in startup funds. By comparison, my startup (two years ago) was about $150k, and I'm expected to bring in triple (~$500 k) before I go up for tenure. I bring this up because it's important for the community to realize that this isn't an "era of $2 million start-ups" for everyone, and the widely-held image of a cash-flush assistant professor hurts those of us with more modest allowances. For example, I don't have the luxury of funding 6-8 grad students in my first two years, which means I'm less likely to have a pile of preliminary results to show to NIH and NSF in my proposals. In essence, the bar for funding seems to be getting higher all the time, but there is a substantial bias favoring folks with big startups. 'Twas ever thus, I suppose, but I can't help but think that this escalating arms race will only lead to more funding being concentrated at institutions whose pockets are already quite deep. I'm all in favor of a competitive funding mechanism, but the current is getting awfully difficult to paddle against.

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  2. "my NIH grant was activated on my first day of appointment"

    Isn't the median age for a first NIH grant now 42? There might not have been start-up packages in 1963, but being able to walk in the door with a federal grant must have been nice.

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    1. It reminds me of an old advisor who is in his 80s who told me back in the day, as long as you bothered to apply for an NIH F32, you got one.

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  3. My startup was even more modest. It was funded by the Dean's office but had to be funneled through the chairman. First I had to justify everything I ordered then started getting odd questions, "do you really a three necked flask, wouldn't two necks be enough?" Then I noticed the ordered chemicals stopped coming. I asked my chair what was going on. He admitted his goal was to return money to the Dean's office at the end of the year and I was his designated victim. A PRF grant came through in the nick of time so I guess the chairman won.

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  4. Agree about the current startup value. I'm starting at a low-ranked R1 this fall, and I've got ~$600k to work with. Considering other schools at this rank, I'm grateful to have that much, but certainly $2mil sounds well beyond anything I've ever heard of, even for the top 10. Maybe that's what they provide in Texas?

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    1. I've heard of 800K-1.2 million to be standard at top tier R1s. The 2-3 million startups are for top 15 schools to lure people who seem like they could get hired at top 5 schools.

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